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All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of employees under the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978. From a practical perspective this means that employers should consider the following:
Employees who self isolate and are unwell should be paid in accordance with normal sick pay arrangements.
Employees who self isolate and have no symptoms may be able to continue working remotely and should continue to receive full pay.
Employees who self isolate with no symptoms but who are unable to work from home may still be entitled to statutory or contractual sick pay. The UK Government has announced that Statutory Sick pay (SSP) will be payable from day 1 and that employees who have been advised by NHS 111 or a doctor to self-isolate, even if not showing symptoms, should receive SSP. Under the new measures, the Government will meet the cost for businesses with fewer than 250 employees of providing SSP for 14 days. Both the Labour Relations Agency and ACAS have advised that if employers offer contractual sick pay it is good practice to pay this also.
Having an open dialogue with employees will be key. If an employee has an underlying health condition that is a genuine cause for concern then an employer could suggest that they work from home if possible or use annual leave.
A blanket refusal to attend work without cause could become a disciplinary matter however employers should tread carefully and seek advice.
Employers should be planning for this possibility now and ensure that, where possible, staff can work remotely.
If staff cannot work remotely then some businesses may be facing a lay off situation. However, employers need a contractual right to lay off/place employees on short-time working without pay and employees may be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment. Helpful guidance is available from the Labour Relations Agency.
In this scenario, employees may not have a contractual right to pay. However, you could agree to a period of homeworking. Failing that, employees could request flexible working, annual leave or unpaid leave.
Should you have any queries in relation to the above, please contact Aisling Byrne, Director